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Opinions of Saturday, 23 April 2016

Columnist: Jamila Akweley Okertchiri

Ending open defecation the smart way

Richard Tetteh is a 39-year-old city guard of the Ashaiman Municipal Assembly in the Greater Accra Region. He lives with his family of about ten in their house located in the Ashaiman community.

Twelve months ago, Richard and other members of his family had to use the public toilet as their place of convenience because they had no household toilet.

“We have to join other people at the public toilet every morning to use the facility and people see you and they ask where you are going,” he told this paper.

He added that the public toilet was unkempt and warm, making it uncomfortable because of the stench that emanated from the toilet.

Richard, however, said the major problem they encountered while using the facility was whenever they wanted to use it and it was closed for the day.
“When this happens we normally have to find our own way of freeing ourselves,” he revealed.

Richard, after going through this for most part of his life, had the opportunity to make a smart choice last year when the Ashaiman Municipal Assembly (ASHMA), through the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area (GAMA) sanitation project funded by the Dutch government and the World Bank, instituted the subsidised household toilets project.

Upon hearing about the project, Richard informed his family and they decided to go for the household toilet which they paid for in instalments.

“A lot of things have changed. Normally when I used the public toilet, I had to go out where people would see me and ask all sorts of questions but now when I get up I fetch my water and I go straight to my own toilet in my house and before anybody sees me, I’m dressed up going to work,” he noted.

Ashaiman Municipality

The population of Ashaiman Municipality, according to the 2010 Population and Housing Census, is 190,972, representing 4.8 percent of the region’s total population.

The whole of the municipality is considered urban. However, a little over sixty percent of households in the municipality use public toilets, with 4.0 percent having no toilet facility and therefore resorting to the use of the bush, beach or field as their places of convenience.

ublic Toilets Not Solution To Open Defecation (OD)

The Environmental Health and Sanitation Directorate of the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, in a newsletter, indicated that providing public toilets rather entrenched open defecation.

According to the directorate, the policy on public latrines is for District Assemblies to arrange for the provision of public facilities in central business districts, major commercial and light industrial areas, local markets and public transport terminals (lorry/bus stations) mainly to be used by travellers.

The districts are also responsible for the promotion of the construction and use of household toilets, including the conversion of pan latrines to approved types.

Some argue that but for the existence of communal latrines in thousands of communities, open defecation rate could be higher than the current 19% since many houses have been constructed without toilets in several urban and rural communities and most of the residents would be compelled to practise open defecation since there would be no other choice.

The directorate, however, says the existence of these communal latrines is mostly the very cause of thousands of houses not having toilets. In most communities where communal latrines have been provided, open defecation is still very rife and residents cite several reasons for not wanting to use them.

Some of these include lack of privacy, poor hygiene, inconvenience, insecurity and waste of productive time, leading in some cases to the abandoning of the communal latrines.

Ashaiman GAMA Projects

Based on the sanitation challenges that face many urban communities in the Greater Accra Region and the task assigned to the various municipal assemblies to explore more alternative and cost effective latrine technology options to facilitate the promotion of household toilets, the Ashaiman Municipal Assembly, under the (GAMA) project, came up with a smart way of providing household toilets.

During the first phase of the project, the assembly instituted a team called the Rapid Response Taskforce which helped to sensitise the people on using public toilets.

“During that project, the assembly with the support of Safi Sana, a sanitation company, provided 13 public toilets in the communities,” Kwesi Adu Gyamfi, Public Relations Officer (PRO) of ASHMA, disclosed.

“We have finished phase-one of the GAMA project and we at Ashaiman decided to go into helping households in the provision of household toilets in the second phase,” Henry Tenu, ASHMA Environmental Health Officer added.

He said the assembly decided to go in for household toilets because they realised that the spread of communicable diseases was on the increase and that one way to get rid of communicable diseases by improving sanitation was to provide household toilets in the communities.

Mr Tenu said the assembly sensitised the community to move from the public toilets to the household toilets because “when they go to the public toilet they free themselves but end up picking up germs and other diseases because the place is not hygienic.”

Stand Alone Toilet

The assembly in collaboration with Safi Sana Company, since last year, has been providing toilet facilities which have biofil technology incorporated at a reduced price for members of the community.

The ‘Stand Alone Toilet’, as it is called, is a small toilet facility on its own super structure which has a micro-organism introduced into it to feed on the faeces and turn it into soil while taking away the odour.

The Stand Alone Toilet is good for households where there is little space. It can serve a family of 10 to 15 people.

When it is full after an estimated three to five years of usage, the household can open and scoop the sand and use it as manure or fertilizer.

“So far 40 households are using it and we are still constructing more because we are targeting about 2000 households in this project,” said Mr Tenu.

The cost of the toilet which is designed to ensure best sanitation practice is also shared between the assembly and the community members.

“The cost has been subsidised to GHC3000 but because the assembly wants to help, the first 100 people to register will pay GHC1500, while assembly bears the other GHC1500,” he stated.

“We are not doing only this toilet facility in particular; it is open to every toilet household, so whatever toilet you want to put up—assuming it is accepted by the World Health Organisation standard—we will support you to do it.
“We also have the digester for households who already have a toilet facility. Its costs GHC1800 but households will only pay GHC900,” Mr Tenu said, adding,”This is cost effective because in the long run the household benefits more.”

According to him, after installation the whole house is educated on how to use and keep it clean, which is followed with intermittent visits to inspect how it is being used.

He, however, warned against putting rubbers and papers into the pit, indicating that it would destroy the micro-organism and prevent it from working effectively.

“It comes with no scent but where you have a smell then something is wrong,” he said.

He disclosed that apart from the Stand Alone Toilet, the assembly had another project targeted at those who could not afford the Stand Alone Toilet.

“Such people are going to benefit from the Output Based Aid (OBA) which has a special package. They can choose the kind of facility they want and government will bear most of the cost,” he added.

Benefits

Mr Tenu said the Stand Alone Toilet encourages hand washing, which is one of the key elements in helping to reduce communicable diseases.

“So the idea is that you fetch a cup of water, pour into the hand-washing basin and it runs into the pipe network, into the system where you have to sit and do your own thing.

“After you press the handle and it is flushed down, then you wash your hands so that there will be water in the system for the next person to use,” he explained and added that “In one way or the other, it is to check the system and encourage hand washing. A cup of water is enough to flush.”

He also pleaded with landlords and landladies to ensure that they had toilet facilities in their homes and advised tenants to insist on the provision of toilets before they rented rooms or apartments.

“Tenants have to put more pressure on landlords and landladies to provide these facilities for them because with this, it has helped a lot,” he said.